The ‘mateship instinct’ that made surfer Julian Wilson swim towards a shark

Julian Wilson is the 13th best surfer in the world.

Julian Wilson is the 13th best surfer in the world. Photo: Getty

When Julian Wilson surfs at Jeffreys Bay, he can’t help but remember.

It was in the same South African waters that a shark attacked his colleague, compatriot and mate Mick Fanning two years ago, and Wilson famously rushed to his aid.

The fact it was a World Tour final – Wilson had won just two in his career at that point – mattered little. He needed to help.

“It was mateship, instinct. It was just a situation where I was trying to help in any way I could,” Aussie Wilson, currently competing in the 2017 J-Bay event, told The New Daily.

The famous 2015 incident – viewed more than 30 million times collectively on YouTube – saw Fanning eventually wrestle free from a shark after punching it as Wilson swam towards him.

Wilson says he is still “uncomfortable” accepting accolades for his brave actions and that any of his surfing brethren would have done the same thing if they were in his situation.

But he acknowledges the public interest in the incident and tries to use it for good.

“I think forever that’s going to be a conversation topic,” he said.

“It was just a moment in a friendship. I had a supporting role in an ugly situation.

“I get to use that stage [now]. I try to do positive things with that recognition.”

Wilson has used the stage of surfing to raise money and awareness for breast cancer charities since he was 18.

His mum, Nola, has survived the condition twice, the first time when Julian was five years old, the second time just three years ago.

For seven years, Nola has designed the bespoke, limited edition pink board shorts that Wilson regularly wears to encourage younger women to check for breast lumps.

“I try to raise awareness for the younger demographic that might be a bit more naïve and think it’s not for them,” he said.

He also raises money and when he wanted a board signed by his World Tour competitors, he knew all 35 would agree without hesitation.

“It’s such a small group of people that compete,” he said.


Julian Wilson is confident of a good showing at J-Bay this year. Photo: Getty

“It’s really hard to get there. You see the same faces at every event and we all know it’s a life-threatening sport.

“You’re travelling together all the time, and [his rivals] become like a second family.”

This spirit extends to surfers from all over the world, but Wilson says there is a special bond between the Australians, a “pretty tight unit” who have known each other since competing in juniors.

Surfing has always been in Wilson’s blood.

Both his parents were surfers and his father, 70, still takes to the waves.

His brothers were both long board stars and Wilson initially followed, before switching to the shorter version to forge a career path.

The 28-year-old’s dedication and skill are unquestioned, but he concedes that his World Surf League results are yet to reflect that.

Currently ranked eighth in the world, he is considered good enough to challenge for the title. His challenge is consistency.

“I feel that’s what is really driving me at this stage of my career,” he said.

“I know I am good enough to win, but I need to pull out those performances time and time again. I haven’t found it yet, but I’m right there.”

Wilson says he’s “comfortable” at all 11 stops on the tour, from the “big stuff” at Fiji and Tahiti, to Rio de Janeiro, where there are a lot of aerials performed.

His best track record is at J-Bay, where he has progressed into the third round.

“I’ve had some great results … It’s all about putting them together in one year,” he said.

The Keep it Squeezy campaign encourages younger females, in particular, to check their breasts for lumps on a regular basis.

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